‘Park ranger’ may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that it’s World Ranger Day on July 31. You may be more likely to have visions of army rangers, Texas rangers, or New York rangers. But World Ranger Day is not about military- or sports heroes. Today, we pay tribute to park rangers, also known as forest rangers — the unsung heroes who protect, preserve, and defend America’s dwindling wilderness land resources. And we commemorate rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Most of us can easily picture that park ranger verifying passes and collecting entrance fees at an entrance booth of a national park, or the forest ranger interpreting wildlife and discussing conservation as they lead visitors on tours. But few among us are familiar with how often a park ranger’s duties bring him or her face-to-face with life-threatening dangers inherent to their profession.
History of World Ranger Day
In 2004, concerned about the lack of respect for and awareness of the dangers park rangers face worldwide, documentary filmmaker and conservationist Sean Willmore made it his mission to bring real-life stories of the plight of park rangers into the public spotlight through the lens of a camera. A park ranger himself, Willmore spent nearly one full year interviewing rangers in 23 countries, uncovering and recording inspirational stories of service and sacrifice for the documentary film, “The Thin Green Line.”
Since its premiere in 2007, “The Thin Green Line” has been viewed by people in over 50 countries, restoring dignity, pride, and hope to park rangers around the world. The documentary provides a rare glimpse into the daily lives of park rangers, sharing the sacrifices they and their families make amid common risks they take every day. The film became the catalyst for Ranger Willmore to establish The Thin Green Line Foundation, now the official charity arm of the International Rangers Federation, or IRF, founded in 1992. Together the two organizations work to provide support and assistance for families of rangers who have died or been injured in the line of duty, not unlike the organizations that support the families of fallen police officers and firefighters.
The Thin Green Line Foundation and The International Rangers Federation joined forces in 2007 to celebrate the first World Ranger Day in recognition of the 15th anniversary of the founding of the International Rangers Foundation. World Ranger Day draws attention to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to protecting and preserving our parks, forests, and preserves, and honors the fallen rangers who have lost their lives while serving. Well-known primatologist, anthropologist, and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall became the ambassador for The Thin Green Line Foundation in 2011. Dr. Goodall promotes World Ranger Day vigorously to draw attention to the vital role park rangers play in protecting and preserving our planet’s natural resources and wildlife.
Park rangers serve as law enforcement officers, environmentalists, cultural historians, and sometimes all three of these roles. Regardless of their primary role, all rangers are the first line of defense in protecting wildlife, natural resources, and ecosystems within the national-, state-, and local parks, while ensuring the safety of park visitors. Rangers live, work, and sometimes literally die while risking their lives to protect wildlife habitats from poachers and other human threats like wildfires caused by careless behavior. On any given day, a ranger may be required to confiscate firearms, intercept poachers and smugglers, suppress wildfires, prevent illegal grazing of livestock on federal lands, and stop thefts of timber and cultural objects of historical significance. Rangers are always the first responders who perform dangerous and daring rescues by land, sea, or air when park visitors are lost, trapped, or injured. In fact, nonprofit groups report that during the past 10 years, over 1,000 park rangers have been killed in the line of duty.
“Rangers are the missing link in conservation. That’s why I’ll do everything I can to support The Thin Green Line Foundation.” — Dr. Jane Goodall.
World Ranger Day timeline
Yosemite National Park is designated as a National Park by President Ulysses S. Grant.
The U.S. Army becomes the official administrator of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
The International Rangers Foundation (IRF) is founded.
The documentary “The Thin Green Line” is released.
World Ranger Day FAQs
Are Park Rangers police officers?
Rangers are employed by municipal parks departments, state park systems, or the National Park Service (NPS) to serve in a variety of roles While not all rangers are law enforcement officers, the primary duty of all rangers is to protect and preserve the park and its guests. Some rangers train specifically to serve as law enforcement rangers and have the same powers and duties as city-, county-, and state law enforcement officers, including making arrests and writing citations.
What do Park Rangers do on a daily basis?
Park rangers perform a wide range of duties depending on the park where they are employed and the specific roles for which they are trained and qualified. Enforcing park regulations and rules is a primary duty of all rangers. Rangers often spend a significant amount of time interacting with park visitors as intermediaries between nature and humans. Rangers who are environmental experts or historians give group tours and make presentations for visitor programs, explaining the cultural- or historic points of interest within the park they serve.
Do all rangers work in parks?
Not all park rangers work in parks. Some are assigned to duties at historic battlefields and trails, national monuments, and other sites of state or federal historic significance. National Park Service rangers can be found at national seashores and rivers. It is a great honor to be assigned to serve on the grounds surrounding the White House in Washington, D.C.
How to Stand with Rangers on World Ranger Day
Honor our fallen ranger heroes
Pause today for a moment of reflection, thought, or prayer in remembrance of the more than 1,000 park rangers who have died in the line of duty since 2009. Encourage others to learn about and pay tribute to these fallen heroes using social media posts and special World Ranger Day resources available online from The Thin Green Line Foundation and International Ranger Federation websites and social media accounts. The names of the fallen rangers are available as a downloadable Honor Roll on the foundation’s website.
Become a junior ranger
It’s never too late to take the National Park Ranger Pledge to “explore, learn, and protect” our national parks as a junior ranger. Just ask Rose Torphy. Rose became a Grand Canyon Junior Ranger in 2019 at the age of 103. World Ranger Day is the perfect day for you to take the pledge and live the dream yourself. Although the activity program is specifically oriented toward youth aged between five to 13, anyone can participate. Most National Parks offer young visitors the opportunity to become junior rangers. Each junior ranger takes an oath to protect and learn about parks, and share their own ranger story with friends and family.
Visit a park to thank the rangers
World Ranger Day is a good day to visit a park and thank the rangers who make it possible for us to safely enjoy our nation’s parks. While you’re there, ask how your family, church, school, or civic group can actively participate in special events and projects throughout the year.
Five Dangerous Things Park Rangers Encounter
Rangers make physical arrests for misdemeanors or felonies.
Rangers often conduct criminal investigations.
Rangers are allowed to confiscate firearms.
Rangers regularly apprehend poachers and smugglers.
Rangers often perform land, water, and air search-and-rescue missions
Why World Ranger Day is Important
Honors fallen rangers and their families
From 2009 to 2020, more than 1,000 rangers died in the line of duty. World Ranger Day reminds us to never take park rangers for granted as we consider the selfless sacrifices these courageous men and women make every day.
Spreading awareness inspires others
World Ranger Day raises awareness of the amazing contributions rangers make every day. Who among us is not inspired to be better caretakers of the earth by the selfless sacrifices of these guardians of our parks and forests?
Inspires the next generation of park rangers
World Ranger Day activities and educational programs encourage young people to consider careers as park and forest rangers. Reaching these future custodians of our planet’s natural resources today is vital for the continued preservation of our national-, state park-, and forest treasures in the future.
World Ranger Day dates